By Christie Duffy
Funded by a $300,000 grant, 60 police departments throughout New Jersey are cracking down on distracted drivers.
Woodbridge police used eyes up high to spot drivers texting today, before pulling them over.
“The month of April a lot of police departments are going to set up officers undercover at intersections,” said Former Gov. Richard Codey.
Codey sponsored New Jersey’s distracted driving laws. Today at Woodbridge High School, federal and local law enforcement announced a national campaign to stop motorists from driving while not paying attention to the road.
“Distracted driving is an epidemic,” said Division of Highway and Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky.
“Think about individuals who are driving distracted behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound weapon,” said Middlesex County Freeholder James Polos.
“Last year, Woodbridge police investigated over 6,000 motor vehicle accidents. That’s an incredible number and the vast majority can be attributed to driver inattention,” said Woodbridge Police Sergeant Eric Nelson.
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration reports that 25 percent of all auto accidents involve distraction and claim the lives of thousands every year. Hundreds of thousands more are injured.
“The car spun and landed right here where we’re standing. The front seat passenger was ejected,” said Mike Kellenyi of People Against Distracted Driving.
Kellenyi’s daughter was riding in a car with a distracted driver when she was killed, just before her senior prom.
“They had sent out like 1,500 texts that day. There was over 30 in the last 30 minutes before the accident. And four in the last minute of the accident. But at the time there was no law against it,” Kellenyi said.
Since then his organization — People Against Distracted Driving — worked to pass Nikki’s Law.
“It directs the DOT to use signs and message boards to warn motorists of the dangers of distracted driving. Any laws that come up. And just try to keep it in the public’s eye. So people remember that distracted driving kills,” Kellenyi said.
The law enforcement crackdown is being accompanied by an $8.5 million national ad campaign. It’s been dubbed, “U drive. U text. U pay.”
New Jersey law orders distracted drivers to pay $100 plus court fees. Starting this summer, those fines are set to double, even quadruple for a first offense.
“Second offense; the range of $400 to $600. Third offense, $600 to $800 and we’ll take your license away for three months,” Codey explained.
New Jersey was one of the first states in the country to ban talking on hand-held phones and texting while driving. A recent AAA survey showed that support for the ban is steadily increasing.